September 19, 2013

Cutting into Copper

Some of you may remember that one of the things I loved most about my time in Evanston was its proximity to the lake shore. I became all but obsessed with making it to the beach in time for sunrise every day and was rewarded by witnessing a panoply of the most stunning vistas imaginable. Coming from Salt Lake City--a valley edged in by mountains--I wasn't used to seeing the sun break above a flat horizon. From this vantage, sunlight travels through a substantial amount of atmosphere and is scattered into displays of brilliant color that often change from minute to minute...the deepest reds, purples, and yellows thickening one moment and then vanishing the next. 

Each morning brought new surprises... 

...especially as temperatures dropped and the water began to freeze. Though one of my biggest worries before moving to the Windy City was its legendarily harsh winter, the excitement of observing lake ice actually made me jump up and down whenever sub-zero temperatures were in the forecast...

Don't worry, there is a reason for my nostalgic indulgence.

About a month ago Rob and I were wandering through the Ginko Gallery, a local art shop and studio, and I was startled to see among a stack of random art supplies...a whole sheet of bright new COPPER! I hadn't found an opportunity to exercise my engraving muscles in quite some time, and visions of ornately scrolling designs instantly began sparking through my imagination. I asked the cashier whether this was something they regularly stocked, but apparently it was kind of a one off.
My lucky day!!!

We bought it right away. 

The 6 x 12 inch sheet, prepared and cut by Chicago based K&S Engineering, sat on my desk for a few weeks as I allowed ideas to bubble and churn. A concrete vision finally took shape for me this morning, and I spent some time today experimenting with materials in preparation for the real thing.

At the very least I first had to make sure I could still handle a graver. There is no eraser for engraving. Every line is as permanent as a tattoo. It would be so PERFECT if I started in on my masterpiece and instead just scratched the whole thing up. Fortunately, I still had an old battered piece of copper I'd picked up from a machine shop at NU...perfect for practicing! Then I gathered up my sharpies (yep, that's right...even on the copper), scrounged around for some old nail polish (I know...this is getting a little ridiculous...and by the way what am I doing with such a crazy shade of RED in my collection...I'll just let you wonder:), and finally started in.

My creative mood was helped along by a playlist of "drawing music" that included Dawn of Midi's new release "Dysnomia," and LaMonte Young's "Well Tuned Piano."  I'd only made it through the first two and a half hours of the second selection when my project was complete.

I haven't decided on a name for it yet, but the scene clearly references my morning trips to Lake Michigan's western shore. I'm planning on elaborating upon this idea in the future, and might decide on a title for the series then.

Here are some up close views. One thing I've always loved about engraving is how it shimmers with every change of light...

To help preserve the copper's ruddy sheen, I lacquered over the top of the whole thing with two coats of clear polish. I eventually hope to mount the piece, but at the moment its dimensions are 6 x 12 inches.

September 10, 2013

First Quarter Moon

The Half Moon 
The half moon shows a face of plaintive sweetness
Ready and poised to wax or wane;
A fire of pale desire in incompleteness,
Tending to pleasure or to pain:--
Lo, while we gaze she rolleth on in fleetness
To perfect loss or perfect gain. 
Half bitterness we know, we know half sweetness;
This world is all on wax, on wane:
When shall completeness round time's incompleteness,
Fulfilling joy, fulfilling pain?
Lo, while we ask, life rolleth on in fleetness
To finished loss or finished gain.  
Christina Rossetti
It is impossible to deduce whether the half moon to which Ms. Rossetti refers in this poem is in its first or last quarter. And that's probably the point. Such ambiguity lends itself well to a metaphor of life's inevitable ups and downs, and our human inclination (whether chosen or fated) to view our changing lot as either half-empty, or half-full.

I'd venture a guess that most people today wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a first and last quarter moon. Up until a few years ago I certainly couldn't. Like most, I'd look up from time to time, notice a pale moon...maybe hanging out in the afternoon sky...and think, "Huh...there's the" And that would be about it. Of course it doesn't take a whole lot more observation before you pick out a pattern or two. And then there are helpful tricks that can save you in a pinch. "DOC" is my favorite: A waxing "D" progresses to a full "O" moon, and then slowly shrinks away into a waning "C." Of course, the pattern is reversed for southern hemisphere observers. Fortunately "COD" is a word in either least in English.

The first quarter moon is a lovely sight. With its eastern edge illuminated and the terminator running straight down the middle of its face, a telescope or pair of binoculars will reveal the shadows of great mountain ranges spilling out over vast crater-pocked lava planes. Though my latest astronomy themed drawing interprets the lunar landscape with a good deal of artistic license, I did try to reference real features made visible at first quarter.

The Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium) is the central focus. Framing some prominent craters (Archimedes, Aristillus, Autolycus, and Cassini), this ancient volcanic plain is edged from south to north by the Appenine and Caucasus mountains and capped by an "Alpine Valley" (admittedly exaggerated in my depiction). The northern Mare Frigoris (Sea of Cold) bleeds around Aristotle's crater and into the lakes of Death and Dreams, finally bringing the eye to rest on a Sea of Serenity at lower right. Forgive my wordy indulgence here. It's easy to get carried away by such tantalizing names. Exploring the lunar surface can feel like wandering through a poem.

September 8, 2013

A Morning Walk

On advice from an informed neighbor, I altered the course of my walk this morning to incorporate a network of wood-chipped trails that surround Oberlin College's large solar power array. These well-maintained paths trek northwest of campus and lead back into a serene area of woods and meadow...meandering back forth and around a stately field of tracking solar panels.

I was already somewhat aware of the solar array (had previously caught glimpses of it way out behind some houses while exploring the neighborhood one day), but had assumed the land surrounding it was private property or otherwise off limits. Thank goodness for friendly neighbors. Without their well timed advice, I might never have seen these luscious golden fields.

I'm such a junkie for big beautiful vistas...vast quiet spaces that provoke a sense of wonder...

...and nearly always harbor lovely surprises if you take the time to look closely.

Alien shapes hidden away in an otherwise conventional lawn...

...and painterly eruptions of color...

Even things that usually inspire a disgusted cringe can reveal luscious geometries...

...fantastical interiors...

...and spritely keepers that carefully patrol their furrowed refuge...

...glinting like emerald in the sunlight.

September 2, 2013


I know enough about memory to know that it's imperfect, sporadic...that we fill in the stories of our lives with details of feeling, thought, and imagery, so that their "final" version fits well within our evolving sense of who we are...where we came from...where we are going. Though we often believe otherwise, recollections of lived experience are often fraught with fantasy: imagined facts that serve to reinforce and even enhance the personal Truths to which we cling.

As I was looking through an old box of photos this morning, I came across an image of what I still remember as one of the most beautiful moments of my life. During fall break 1999--in the first days of my first romantic relationship--I visited the Grand Canyon for the first time in my life. We'd driven through Zion National Park on the previous day, and then headed down to the Canyon's North Rim, arriving late in the afternoon with just enough time to take a first look over the edge before finding a campsite in the surrounding woods.

In contrast to the typical hubbub that is unavoidable at the more-visited South Rim, our spot on the North was all but deserted. I remember driving  down through the Kaibab National Forest listening to Strauss' Alpine Symphony...light filtered through stands of evergreens...and then sitting together at the edge of an immense chasm...furrowed ridges bathed in amber. "Wouldn't this make a great spot for a first kiss?" he coaxed. I flushed with youthful yearning, but still balked, far too shy to accept.

A picture then...

Standing alone atop the unguarded rim, my body seethed with awe and vertigo and the thrill of everything the moment seemed to promise. With feet braced to stone, I threw my hands to the sky, and the camera clicked...

The film was developed later, probably just down the hill at our local Albertson's Grocery, and came back mostly blank and overexposed (Ahhh...the days before digital!). Fortunately, this shot survived...just barely.

That relationship didn't last long...a couple of months, and then he suggested we just go back to being friends...which we did. I went off to Juilliard the following year. Loved the city. Missed the mountains. Life went on. I came back to Salt Lake, got a job, bought a condo, played my trumpet, quit my job, sold the condo, went back to grad school, and then followed Rob to Oberlin, where I'm now working to re-build and perhaps discover anew which parts of myself are most important.

In the face of unforgiving realities, ecstatic moments like the one in this photo burn all the more strongly in memory. I think of the great things I achieved in the ensuing years...the unforgettable experiences I never would have predicted for myself...all of which feel inevitably and imminently alive within this photo. I also lament what I've lately perceived as a precipitous fall from what was to be my promising future.

Of course I know how imperfect a summary this memory has become. In the same way I sometimes forget to acknowledge the good things in my life today, I know I semi-consciously edit out (or at least downplay) many of the disappointments that occurred alongside the past successes I so desperately cling to. In fact, it's likely that if I were to go back and talk to my former self, she'd admit to feeling the same insecurity, fear, and sense of defeat that I do today, while totally blind to the enchantment I now so strongly recollect.

What I know ties us together, is the desire to live a life full of creativity and adventure. I want to be healthy so my body will be able to carry me to the tops of mountains and still feel pleasure at the exertion, and my mind will remain curious and interested and seeking. I want to maintain high standards in my work...whatever it may strive for achievement and be able to take pride in accomplishment. I want to work with persistence and honesty so that my leisure is restful. And I want to take every opportunity to be out in the world. To experience it firsthand. To hear live music, breathe out across the open space of wilderness, and see the stars with my own eyes.

As generalized and cliché as this all may be, I believe it is still the essence of the story I aspire to create for myself...the autobiography I hope to reconstruct from a highly imperfect memory of lived experience.